2009 MLB National League free agent moves
As Christmas draws near, fans of NL Central teams shouldn't be anticipating any new, expensive free agent toys under the tree.
The St. Louis Cardinals, the defending National League Central champions, appear set to lose several key members from last year's team, starting with left fielder Matt Holliday. Holliday, who the Cardinals acquired before the trade deadline in 2009 from the Oakland Athletics, is set to test the market, and the highest bidder will be awarded his services.
Holliday was a vital part of the Cards lineup last season, hitting .353 with 13 home runs and 55 RBI. However, with super agent Scott Boras representing him don't expect Holliady to settle for anything less than top dollar, something the Cardinals can't afford. The team reportedly refuses to pay the outfielder more money annually than superstar 1B Albert Pujols, which isn't likely to be good enough to keep Holliday.
Starting pitcher Joel Piniero and veteran infielder Mark DeRosa are offering their services around the league, and infielder Felipe Lopez has already inked a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While the Cardinals are in much better shape financially than many teams in the division, they still are unable to compete with other league powerhouses such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. While some minor moves to fill holes certainly can't be ruled out, and are even likely, don't expect any major moves to be made to fill some of the holes that have been created due to free agent defections.
The big market Chicago Cubs find themselves in a unique situation, with new ownership recently taking over, and a ton of money tied up in superstar players performing well below expectations. With huge money due to Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez, among others, the Cubs aren't going to make any major waves on the market. They are trying feverishly to unload malcontent Milton Bradley, who has been a problem in nearly every major league clubhouse he's been in (that's now seven and counting), yet aren't finding much of a market for the veteran outfielder. The Tampa Bay Rays have emerged as a favorite to land Bradley, yet the team is expecting the Cubs to pay a large portion of Bradley's remaining salary, which has complicated trade discussions.
The Milwaukee Brewers seems to be an exception to the rule in the division, with plenty of money to spend. However, it remains to be seen whether it was a good use of the team's resources. Left handed pitcher Randy Wolf inked a 3 year, $29.75 million deal with the club, with a club option for a fourth year. Wolf was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA last season, in a career high 34 starts. Yet he's been on the disabled list five times in his career, including a long stretch from 2004-05 due to Tommy John surgery.
The Brew Crew also inked 37 year old relief pitcher Latroy Hawkins to a two year contract worth $7.5 million, and are in deep discussions with veteran shortstop Craig Counsell. Despite a winter so far steeped in action, it's unclear how much the Brewers have improved. Wolf has battled health concerns and has only won more than 12 games in a season once (16 in 2003 with the Phillies), and Hawkins and Counsell are both near retirement.
The franchise that lays claim to the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, have been relatively quiet. Infielder Jamey Carroll and Craig Counsell have both been on the Reds radar, yet General Manager Walt Jocketty and Manager Dusty Baker have gone on record saying that they like the current roster, and are unlikely to be very active on the free agent market.
The Houston Astros are losing SS Miguel Tejada and closer Jose Valverde to free agency, yet signed closer Brandon Lyon to a 3 year $15 million contract. Lyon is a solid pitcher who posted a 2.86 ERA last season with Detroit, yet is a step down from Valverde and comes at a cheaper price. The Astros, like most teams in the division, are in cost-cutting mode due to several factors, with the poor economy being at the forefront.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, are not cutting costs this winter. Sadly enough for Pirates fans, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball annually, there isn't much to consider cutting from the Pirates budget. The Bucs have signed SS Bobby Crosby, a former top prospect of the Oakland Athletics. However, the word "former" is of the utmost importance, as Crosby has been a major disappointment during his time in the majors, to the tune of a .238 career BA. The Pirates also resigned projected starting shortstop Ronny Cedeno to a one year deal worth $1.125 million annually, avoiding arbitration with the 26 year old who hit .208 last season.
While the Yankees and a few of the other big boys feast up, they aren't leaving many left-overs for the rest of baseball. All of the teams in the NL Central division may be active one way or another this winter, but don't expect that activity to garner any major headlines, or to warm the winters of the team's fans, who are thirsting for a way for their team to improve.
By Jonathan Wagner
> View all of the 2008 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans